The Neighborhood Organized Workers (NOW) was formed in July 1966 as a human rights organization that used non-violent direct action in an effort to achieve political, social, and economic reformin the African-American community. NOW's community action program focused on the improvement of the most pressing socio-economic problems faced by African Americans in Mobile, such as education, employment, healthcare and housing, with minimal intrusion into the arena of civil rights. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968, the organization was reformed in an effort to provide more effective civil rights leadership in the Mobile, Alabama, area and to instill pride in black identity. NOW would agitate for civil rights and challenge the African-American leadership until its demise in 1971.
The oral history project was conducted by John Lyles as part of research for a seminar in southern history.As no meeting minutes, membership lists, or organizational correspondence exist or have been made publicly available, the interviews were conducted in order to fill-in the historical record of NOW. Some of the above type materials can be found in scattered archival collections but they do not offer great insight into NOW's existence as seen from within the organization. Civil rights literature has increasingly gone beyond the traditional Martin Luther King-centered 1954-1964 paradigm, and has been focused on the role of local people and their struggles towards social justice. Hence, Mr. Lyles felt that the fragmented records of this grassroots civil rights organization needed further documentation. Mr. Lyles taped interviews with civil rights activist and founding member of the Neighborhood Organized Workers Jerry Pogue, former journalist for the Southern Courier newspaper and founding member of the Neighborhood Organized Workers David Underhill, and George Langham, educator and member of the Neighborhood Organized Workers.
The interview with Jerry Pogue and Dave Underhill was conducted February 2003 in Mobile, Alabama. Jerry Pogue spoke "off the record" for one hour prior to submitting to the taped interview. No attempt was made to include the material discussed prior to the taped interview portion. Dave Underhill arrived approximately one hour into the taped portion of the Pogue interview. Subjects discussed during the interviews include race relations in Mobile during the 1960's, the Non-Partisan Voter League, John LeFlore, African-American churches involvement in the civil rights movement, civil rights tactics, voter registration and the bloc vote, Dorothy Williams, local white ministers involvement in the civil rights movement, grassroots organizing, factionalism between civil rights organizations and leadership, intimidation tactics, and the founding of the Neighborhood Organized Workers. The interview with George Langham was conducted August 2003 at his Mobile, Alabama, home. Subjects discussed include: segregation in Mobile, African-American community views towards NOW, direct action tactics, police harassment, the Non-Partisan Voters League, Catholic involvement in the civil rights movement, African-American leadership in the 1960s, Black Power, factionalism between civil rights organizations, media management of "public discourse," "pink ballots," and the bloc vote.
Researchers are cautioned that the publication of information contained in these interviews may violate the legal rights of the interviewees. It is the sole responsibility of the researcher to secure permission from the interviewees to publish quotes from these interviews.
Jerry Pogue & Dave Underhill Tape 1